“Authority can be given. Leadership must be earned.”
As with The Force Awakens, there’s an onslaught of books billed as “Journey to The Last Jedi.” This is one of them. I have neither time, nor money, nor even inclination to go through all of them. Instead, I trust the Force to lead me to the stories that will matter most to me. In this case, that means bridging the trilogies, filling in the gaps, and telling the important stories of the characters that truly define Star Wars. Leia, Princess of Alderaan is in many ways the origin story we always knew we’d get. That it finally comes as part of the journey to Carrie Fisher’s final appearance as Leia makes it a bittersweet but welcome entry into the Star Wars legacy.
As the story opens, Leia is undergoing a coming of age ritual as she turns 16, declaring her place as crown princess of her adopted homeworld and heir to her mother’s throne. As ritual demands, and as is befitting the legacy of her parents, she declares the measures by which she will prove her worth by serving in high level capacities for which she is bred. But as all young women, she juggles her responsibilities with growing frustrations that all is not right in her world. It’s not just that the Empire is subjugating the galaxy. Her parents are outright ignoring her. As she sees it, they spend their days in secret meetings planning high society functions, by which their nights unfold. Being the headstrong princess we know her to be, she decides to take matters into her own hands, organizes her own missions of humanitarian aid, and hopes that as a result her parents will see her again and acknowledge that she truly is ready to assume her rightful place in their work.
The problem with such a plan is that she doesn’t have all the facts, and a good heart will only get a person so far. As she learns to subvert the letter of Imperial rule in the name of compassion, her path inadvertently intersects with a terrorist action against the Empire, and her willingness to bend the rules to her will earns her the singular notice of one Grand Moff Tarkin. As Leia puts the pieces together, she learns the truth of her parents’ role in organizing the Rebellion against the Empire, and she finds herself asking the hard questions about the limits of open rebellion and armed conflict.
For a book that bills itself as a young adult novel, this feels more and more like a story that understands all of the stakes in telling a story like this. I’m not even sure why the marketing people feel the need to differentiate it from the regular line. With the new understandings we’ve gained of the fledgling Rebellion from Rogue One and Rebels, this story fits right in. In fact, it seems easy enough to slide this story in just before Leia’s appearance on season two of Rebels. It’s an excellent insight into her world that builds all of the character traits we know and love about her. We see how she interacts with others of her age and experience, how she confronts her superiors, how she handles physical, mental, and emotional challenges, and even how she copes with her first budding romance.
This book also has the distinction of introducing us to Amilyn Holdo, Laura Dern’s role in The Last Jedi. As good as this book is, and as well-written as the character is (as much as any other in this story), I’m not entirely certain yet how I feel about her. If you’ll pardon the expression, she’s a bit of an obnoxious space case at this stage in the game. I’ll have to come back and form an opinion based on her role in the new film to see how this book plays into the larger whole. Right now, all we know is she and Leia travelled in the same circles, and she has her own perspectives on how to fight the Empire.
There are some seriously brilliant character and story points in this novel. Tarkin is used effectively, menacingly, and just sparingly enough that his shadow lingers even when he’s not in the frame. The cameo from Saw Gerrera opens the door to those aforementioned questions of the limits of rebellion. Leia’s diplomatic mission to Naboo… well, it’s just nice to see authors honor the prequels and bring everything around in a way that hits the right chords. It adds to the legacy when connections are made without feeling like it was called out simply for being a fan moment. It mattered to the story, and it mattered to the character that Leia should walk in the footsteps of her birth mother, even if she doesn’t know. The conspiracy forming to build the Rebellion is handled with a deft hand.
Bottom line, everything about this novel just feels right to me. The end result is we get to learn so much about Leia that confirms what we already know while lighting up some of the blind spots. We learn who Leia is, and we learn what’s at stake for her. As a side effect, we get a better idea of what she lost when Tarkin gave the order to destroy her homeworld only three years after this story takes place. That’s gravitas, Star Wars style. Leia fans need to read this book.